The day he was hired as head coach, Tim Beckman met with his University of Toledo football team and laid down a few rules. One dealt with classroom demeanor. Every Rocket would take a seat in the front two rows of every class.
Last Thursday, after staging his first mandatory 6 a.m. workout, Beckman threw on his coat, walked over to University Hall, peered through a window in a door and saw a UT player sitting in the front row of class. An hour later, he grabbed his coat again, walked back across campus, glanced through a window and saw four Rockets in a classroom, all sitting in the front two rows.
This may not translate into wins next fall. Or it might. But Beckman was hired to do more than simply win games. He was hired to run a program, which includes instilling discipline, building character, contributing to the community, and seeing players through to graduation.
"[Learning is] harder to do when you're hiding in the back row, hoodie up, with earphones in listening to an iPod," Beckman said. "So, there's none of that. Sit in the front two rows, and the teacher realizes it's important to you to be there. If you're listening you're learning. Plus, we want that teacher and the rest of that class in the stadium on Saturdays."
Beckman is in the process of hiring two support staffers who will be known as "encouragers." UT, like all athletic departments, has an academic counseling staff, but the encouragers are retired educators who will monitor and mentor UT's players and report to the coaches.
"I learned this program from coach [Jim] Tressel at Ohio State," Beckman said. "Coach Tress called them enforcers at first, but then changed it to encouragers. It has a better connotation. Sitting in the two front rows is an Ohio State thing too. When I went from there to Oklahoma State we incorporated it into the program there. Kids love it. Again, it's direction. It's doing what they are asked to do. In my opinion, kids crave discipline. It carries over into every aspect of the program."
Beckman is determined to instill a family atmosphere at UT, but there will be no question about who is the head of the family and there will be no confusion between family and democracy.
In a command performance, the entire football team joined 18 high school recruits and their families at the men's basketball game Saturday. Beckman said he has already set foot in nearly every high school in the area and that "recruiting is going really well. I've looked at all 12 game films from last season and there's a good nucleus, but we have to keep building and getting better. You bring a kid to this university and community; there are a lot of things you can sell."
Beckman has had plenty of time in the past six weeks to sell, sell, sell in what, like everything else, is a buyers' market. In the future, though, there's something else he would prefer to be doing throughout the month of December.
"There were teams practicing in December," he said, referring to bowl teams, "and we weren't. That's what we have to get this program back to."
UT's new indoor practice
facility, the final phase of the new Sullivan Athletic Complex, is expected to be ready for occupancy next winter.
Beckman hopes his Rockets will have a front row seat - and a practice - the day it opens.